After breakfast we had only to wait for the last of our companions to join us, then we were off to explore. We planned on walking up through Heber’s Ghyll to the moor beyond. These weekends are not about how many miles we can walk or how many sights we can see, they are about being children again in a landscape of wonder and imagination. Heber’s Ghyll is a fairytale wood.
Black Beck tumbles down the hillside in a constant cascade of purity and you walk with its song around you. Small birds and butterflies dart through the trees and the light paints the undergrowth viridian and white. We leave the path early, forging through the leaf-litter and bracken towards an arrangement of stone that may well be natural, but has the feel of something more.
Crude steps lead up to the rocks, either modern or worn by the feet of other explorers and local children. We are not the only ones to be attracted by them and if they have been here for the ages man has walked this landscape, we are in little doubt they too would have served our ancestors, just as the other natural features here have done. There is a dark space beneath the horizontal stone and it has either fallen very fortuitously into place upon the small rocks or has been leveled upon them to form a platform large enough to hold all our party without crowding. The moss and oxalis are too thick to see if there are markings on the stone and I recall a day of careful cleaning that revealed a superb carving once upon a time. The little brush I had used is still in my bag….
But now is not the time, and the plants are too thick… and some things are better left a mystery. To stand upon that platform with the triangular rock at your back and look down into the ghyll gives a strange feeling. Especially when he staff in your hand is planted on the stone at your side like a spear. Imagination? Perhaps. But it feels a perfect place for a guardian to stand.
At the top of the ghyll a chalybeate spring still oozes its iron rich waters. There is no longer anything that looks remotely like cup or basin, but this was once known as a healing spring. We rest beside it for a while before emerging into the brilliant sunshine on the moor, stopping again beside a small pool created by the swirling waters of the beck before continuing along the edge of the moor to the Swastika Stone.
An enigmatic shape carved into the stones at Woodhouse Crag. I remember it clearer when I was a child… erosion seems to have speeded up. The one you can see clearly is a copy made to preserve the now faded design just behind it. Both are protected by railings to the edge of the cliff. It is an ancient symbol, far pre-dating the more familiar version of the 20thC. This one is undateable and there is much debate about its origins. Prehistoric artefacts have been found close by, as well as a number of carved stones similar to others on the moor, but this is different.
It is unique in Britain, but very similar to the Camunian Rose found in Italy. Those carvings have been dated back to the Iron Age, perhaps the 7th C BC. It is perhaps no coincidence that members of the Gaulish Lingones settled near Val Camonica in Italy, where the many swastika carvings are found, around 400BC and that the Lingones formed part of the garrison of the Roman fort in Ilkley.
On the other hand, the symbol seems to be universal. It appears in many forms throughout history, and across many religions and cultures. The earliest known representation was found in Mezine in the Ukraine, carved on mammoth ivory and dating back to 10,000 years BC. Prehistoric examples have been found in Africa, India, China as well as Europe. Who knows how long this faded carving has endured… or what it may have meant to those who carved it here?
It is easy to ‘lose’ a morning in such adventures, and though some of us would have been happy to remain on the moors all day, others would need lunch. I wandered off to check on something and was adopted by a butterfly who took up residence on my fleece and gave no indication of wanting to leave. I told my companions about it when I got back. “It’s still there,” said one of them, indicating my shoulder. “You’ve found your soul.”
We headed back down through the ghyll, pausing in the silence to share an impromptu ritual in the stream before descending once more towards the town. At the entrance to the wood another enigmatic figure had appeared, left on the path and raising more questions. There would be a break for lunch in the town, then I thought we could meet back here and explore Panorama Woods… I recalled some carved stones from my childhood, but whether they would still be there…or visible… in a place where even the trees eat stone, we would have to wait and see…